If I could ensure one thing as a result of reading this article, it would be that you learn from my mistakes without enduring similar ones yourself. Yet this is not how life works. You must make mistakes, you must fail. The ironic fact is that any attempt to shield you from making mistakes will lead you to them faster, and with greater gravity. Here at the University of Michigan, we represent top students from the across the world, “the leaders and the best,” and, for most of us, the idea of failure has been conditioned to be thought of as unacceptable. This idea can be so profoundly instilled that many of us have likely never experienced much failure in our lives; it was simply not an option. Sure we have all forgotten about a spelling test once or forgotten our clothes for gym class and had to take the zero, but in few of these circumstances have we stood back afterward with new wisdom toward life. This was my case.

The son of a former army captain with a doctorate in Ceramic Engineering and a first-generation American mother raised by a single mom, my life was very structured. Boy Scout, Eagle Scout, two-sport varsity athlete and valedictorian; my pre-collegiate life was close to perfect. I never drank, smoked, went out at night or on weekends or got in trouble. Now this didn’t mean I was never curious; you can’t help but peek over the fence to the neighbor’s yard sooner or later. Going through high school, I was very aware of the separate life many of my friends were living. It wasn’t a question of popularity, but rather a question of “was I missing out?” The bottom line was that there was no way I could ever have tried these things due to the nature of my household, and also that I was OK with waiting. Sure, everyone wants to be cool in high school, but no TV show or movie about high school could compare with those of college. In my mind college equated to freedom, a chance to grow, a chance to not miss out. College was the finish line and the trophy.

College is not the finish line; if anything, it’s the starting line following a long warm up. Yes, this sounds like common sense, but to a high schooler who has waited 18 years to get away, patience is nearly gone. More importantly, common sense isn’t common. Many may have it, but this doesn’t mean it gets used.

When I went to my college orientation, I heard the drinking lecture from advisors, police and students. Bottom line: “don’t be stupid.” Well duh! Come on, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand how to not get caught. I was the top of my class; I had never once been in trouble, it could never happen to me. More importantly, I was “different than everyone else.”

Unfortunately, it was this mindset that I wasn’t warned about, or if I was, I didn’t listen to it. I was untouchable because I had never made a mistake before. In this sense, even if I did listen to it, I’d never be able to appreciate it because of hubris. The mistake is thinking that years of hard work or fortune in high school will carry through college. When you get to college, no one knows you were a straight-A student or community volunteer. Your past doesn’t define you, your actions now do.

The second mistake is thinking that just because you reached junior year without any mess-ups or an MIP, you truly are “special.” No, this is just how long it takes to get careless, to push the bounds a little further. The problem? When you finally do mess up, and everyone does, you won’t know how to react. You have been so used to avoiding failure that you don’t know what to do.

That was my case. That’s how an Aerospace Engineer graduating early in three and a half years woke up in a holding cell with an mip, breaking and entering, attempted resisting arrest and obstructing charges. Not only could all of these events have been avoided entirely, but there is also no reason they should have been anything more than an MIP, as the officer told me himself. I honestly believe that it was my shock in that situation that escalated things into the mess that it is now. I could not accept being in trouble as reality to the point that I fought it.

The message I am sending is not that I wish I had drank in high school or participated in other mischief. What I am saying is that we only learn from our mistakes, and we need to be open to making them. It’s important to test the waters, but don’t dive in headfirst because you think you’re untouchable. I serve as living proof that failure happens to the best of us. I failed because of my hubris, because I believed that I couldn’t get in trouble, because I thought I was smarter or better than everyone else. I failed because when I made a mistake, I did not learn from it; I panicked and tried to run from it. Reading this isn’t going to keep you from making mistakes. I only hope it makes you aware that even you will make them.

Joseph Sikorski is an Engineering junior.

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